Mark Ingram gave the Saints much more than the first-down run they needed to wind down the clock on the Jets.
His determined burst across the line of scrimmage thrust him into New York's defensive backfield with too much speed and vigor for anyone to catch him - a fitting finish to one of his better days in a memorable season.
Ingram ran for two touchdowns and gained 151 yards from scrimmage , capped by his late 50-yard TD run, and New Orleans overcame three turnovers to defeat the reeling Jets 31-19 on Sunday.
"Getting the ball into his hands is obviously what we want to do," Saints center Max Unger said of Ingram, who has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for a second straight season. "We've got to get him going because when he has a chance to make plays like that - you can see it - he's explosive."
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Ingram's 54-yard gain on a screen, which set up a field goal, was the longer of his two 50-yard plays.
"He's making people miss. He's creating," said fellow running back Alvin Kamara, who added a 10-yard touchdown catch.
The Saints (10-4) needed to beat the Jets (5-9) to maintain a tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South. New Orleans leads Carolina (10-4) on head-to-head results. Atlanta (8-5) can pull one game behind by beating Tampa Bay on Monday night.
The Jets, who were eliminated from the playoffs, kept it close until Saints receiver Michael Thomas' fourth-quarter touchdown on a 4-yard slant made it 24-13.
Bryce Petty made his first start at quarterback for New York this season, completing 19 of 39 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice - once by Craig Robertson on a tipped pass and once by Marshon Lattimore on a long, inconsequential throw as the game ended.
"As far as understanding the game plan and knowing what you see out there, I felt really confident," Petty said. "The more times I get out there, the better I'm going to get."
Jets coach Todd Bowles offered a more tepid assessment, but said the third-year QB remains the starter.
"He just didn't make any plays," Bowles said. "Plays that we needed him to make to win the game, he didn't make. He will get better at that."
Petty's 2-yard touchdown pass to former Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire cut New Orleans' lead to 24-19 with 1:51 left. But the Jets' onside kick failed.
Drew Brees completed 26 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but also was intercepted deep in New Orleans territory to set up a Jets field goal at the end of the first half.
Thomas made nine catches for 93 yards, giving him 94 receptions this season and making him just the second NFL player with at least 90 receptions in each of his first two seasons - the other being the New York Giants' Odell Beckham.
Thomas made first-down grabs of 17, 20 and 9 yards to sustain the drive that ended with his 4-yard TD.
"They need you to be the man and they need you to make plays," Thomas said. "That's what I signed up for and that's I like to do. When the ball is the air, I want to make a play."
New Orleans scored 17 points on its first three drives. Ingram had four catches for 80 yards on the first two series and scored the game's first touchdown on a 1-yard run that made it 10-0.
Bilal Powell briefly pulled New York to 10-7 with his 2-yard run before New Orleans quickly answered with Kamara's TD.
The Saints went seven straight possessions without scoring between the Kamara and Thomas TDs. In addition to third-down failures, New Orleans turned the ball over three times - once on Brees' interception and twice inside the Jets 20 on receiver Brandon Coleman's fumbles.
MISSING IN ACTION
Bowles had little to say about his decision to leave healthy defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson back in New York .
"We're dealing with that as an internal matter," Bowles said. "We'll let you know later."
Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams, whose interception set up the Jets' field goal late in the first half, left in the third quarter with concussion symptoms.
Saints tight end Michael Hoomanawanui left in the first half with concussion symptoms. Right guard Larry Warford went out with concussion symptoms late in the first half after he tried to make a tackle on Williams' interception.
Jets: Host the Chargers in a game with playoff implications for San Diego.
Saints: Host the Falcons in what could be a pivotal contest in the NFC South race.